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Open to all: Redeveloped Glenbow Museum will have free general admission – forever

Future visitors to Calgary’s prized Glenbow Museum will be able to enter the art and history hub for free once the redevelopment is complete.

That’s due to a $35 million announcement from Calgary’s Shaw family, $25 million of which will be used to set up free general admission – forever.

The announcement also included $10 million for the establishment of the JR Shaw Institute for Canadian Art. This will feature annual exhibitions, programs, an artist in residence program, internships and a fellowship program.

“This morning, we are very, very proud to make a donation that honours JR the best way we know how,” said Julie Shaw, Chair of the Shaw Family Foundation, and daughter of the late JR Shaw.  

“It’s by building upon his passion for Canadian art and artists and passing it along for future generations to enjoy without any barriers.”

The building that houses the Glenbow Museum will be renamed the JR Shaw Centre for Arts & Culture.

The Glenbow Museum is undertaking a massive redevelopment of its 312,000 square foot space. For years it’s struggled to break even and hasn’t had enough display space for the artifacts it has. The current building also struggles with meeting accessibility needs and visitor demands, they said.

The Glenbow Reimagined campaign set out to bring in $135 million to help fund the 50+-year-old museum’s redevelopment. With the Shaw family donation, they’ve now exceeded that at $152 million. The Glenbow has now set its sights on raising $175 million.

Thursday’s announcement will make Calgary’s Glenbow Museum the first major museum in Canada to offer free general admission.

Boost to Calgary’s downtown

Drawing thousands of new potential visitors into the area is a big boon for Calgary’s Downtown Strategy. A large part of that strategy is focused on making the downtown a destination beyond the 9-5 work day.

Nicholas R. Bell, president and CEO of the Glenbow Museum, said this announcement rewires how we think about arts and culture for generations to come.

“Free general admission to Glenbow will ensure higher attendance to the museum and greater visitation downtown just when our partners across Calgary are striving together to rebuild the city center we deserve,” he said.  

“Equal access to our cultural infrastructure will provide a civic framework that helps us return a sector of the city that belongs to everyone.”

Calgary Mayor Jyoti Gondek at the Glenbow Museum announcement on Thursday, Feb. 17, 2022. DARREN KRAUSE / LIVEWIRE CALGARY

Calgary Mayor Jyoti Gondek said the announcement can’t be understated.

“This levels the playing field for anyone seeking access to rich and diverse cultural experiences, whether it’s kids, their parents, their grandparents,” the mayor said.

“This access breaks down barriers for those in positions of poverty. It is something to be excited about for newcomers and those who are typically denied this type of opportunity to feed the mind and feed the soul.”

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney also heralded Thursday’s announcement.

“This is a historic moment in Alberta culture. This is a huge day for Calgary,” the Premier said.

“The whole vision with this endowment will mean a vital center of employment for so many in Alberta’s creative industries. That will help our economy and the renewal of Calgary’s downtown.”